The Fighter
Which one is Joe Jonas?

Theatrical Release Date: 12/17/2010
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale)
Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo)


Seems a bit dramatic for a Calvin Klein underwear ad.

Underdog boxer faces adversity in his quest to become a world champion. The love of his family, his trainer and his lady help him overcome the odds. No, this isn’t “Rocky”, “Cinderella Man”, or any of the countless other films that could be described in this manner (or, like this one, are based on a true story). This is director David O. Russell’s “The Fighter”.

Starring Mark Wahlberg as Mickey Ward, the story follows his rise from boxing stepping stone (the guy others fight on their way to the top) to a title contender. His brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), was also a professional boxer whose sole claim to fame is possibly knocking Sugar Ray Leonard down once; though that feat is good enough for him to claim local legend status in the Lowell, Massachusetts area.

Eklund’s drug addiction make for standard dramatic tension between him, Ward, and the rest of the family. Bale embodies the mannerisms and manic tendencies of the actual person he’s based on. While he doesn’t quite go to the ridiculous extremes exhibited in “The Machinist” (dropping down at one point to 121 lbs.), Bale was playing a Welterweight (140 – 147 lbs.) and looked a bit under even that; for comparison’s sake, he bulked up to 180 lbs. for “Batman Begins”.

All of that weight loss does a lot to help transform him into Dale Eklund and though his personal physician may have objections to the swings Bale is willing to undergo, it pays off again for this role. From the opening scene, his gaunt frame combines with a glassy-eyed expression and frenetic gesturing to draw the audience right into the film – especially as it contrasts with the subdued comportment of Wahlberg, who also gives a good performance.

However, one would be remiss in reviewing this film if they didn’t take time out to compliment the casting department on the supporting roles. Amy Adams, playing Wahlberg’s girlfriend, shows a different side to herself, portraying a much rougher-edged and defensive woman than in previous turns – though she still maintains that slightly vulnerable quality that draws people in. The gaggle of women portraying the sisters of Ward and Eklund are akin to a gossip-fueled posse, and although less vicious than the group of women portrayed in “Winter’s Bone“, they seem to share a common bond and aren’t to be trifled with on a whim.

The smart casting continues to Ward’s other trainer (Mickey O’Keefe), his father (Jack McGee), and even simple bystanders, but the pièce de résistance comes in the form of Ward and Eklund’s mother, Melissa Leo. An actress critics have long been praising, and whom audiences have seen often but maybe still don’t put a face to the name, she gives another fantastic performance here and should be a shoe-in for supporting actress nominations this year. Her excellent work in the otherwise useless “Conviction” and the sadly unnoticed “Welcome to the Rileys” this year also have her near the top of my list for 2010 Body of Work.

Russell does a nice job of injecting energy into the picture, either via a well-placed song or allowing the comedy to spring forth from such an insane collection of personalities. This is made doubly important because anyone who’s ever seen a boxing movie knows where this is going and how it’s going to get there. Sure, it’s a true story but clichés are just that until enough of them come along.

The only real downside is that the boxing itself really isn’t that exciting. Wahlberg’s ring presence is far from impressive and many of the fights feel far too choreographed. Normally, this would make for a much bigger issue but the film’s strength is in the portrayal of this dysfunctional though tightly-knit family. Boxing is merely the professional the two boys are engaged in, seeing the volatile dynamics amongst this cast of characters is what will impress audiences and critics alike.

I didn’t expect much out of the film because of the premise which has been done time and time again but Russell and the cast manage to make it work and I’m giving “The Fighter” a 4 out of 5. Don’t let the lackluster trailer fool you, this may sneak its way towards the top ten films of the year when all is said and done.

4 out of 5